In just about 100 days, an estimated two million people will descend on our city to get a glimpse of one of the most popular Popes in recent memory.

Break out the walking shoes or the bike.

During the first of what officials promise is many planning updates for the September Papal visit, Mayor Michael Nutter said Tuesday that Philadelphia residents should plan to walk miles to get to locations throughout the city because public transportation will be heavily backed up and driving will be nearly impossible.

“Folks should start thinking ahead and making accommodations now,” he said. “It will impact the everyday life of many people.”

Donna Farrell, World Meeting of Families executive director, said when Pope Francis visited Milan, people in the city walked three miles or more to get around. Philadelphians should expect the same.

SEPTA, NJ Transit, PATCO, Amtrak and the airport are all making accommodations to handle the massive influx of people for the event Nutter said may be the second or third largest event in United States history. The World Meeting of Families will take place Tuesday Sept. 22 and will culminate with the Papal visit that weekend from the 26th to the 27th.

Here’s a look at how transit authorities are planning to handle the masses:


The city’s transit authority plans to run operations as usual for the week of the World Meeting of Families, but SEPTA options will be greatly affected during the weekend of the Papal visit which is, of course, expected to draw the vast majority of the visitors. Typically, the network accommodates about 300,000 people a day.

The Broad Street and Market Frankford lines, as well as the Regional Rail, will stop at only 31 of the network’s 280 rail stations so that all trains can be used in a high-speed capacity and can be quickly recycled. Center City stations haven’t yet been released, but SEPTA did release a preliminary map of where visitors will be able to board at Regional Rail stations. (The below map does not include Center City dropoff stations, which are still being worked out.)

Regional Rail: At this time, SEPTA plans to operate pick-up only service at:

  • Paoli/Thorndale Line – Paoli and Radnor Stations
  • Norristown/Manayunk Line – Norristown Transportation Center
  • Chesnut Hill West Line – Chestnut Hill West Station
  • Lansdale/Doylestown Line – Lansdale and Fort Washington Stations
  • Warminster Line – Warminster Station
  • West Trenton Line – Woodbourne Station
  • Fox Chase Line – Fox Chase Station
  • Trenton Line – Croydon and Cornwells Heights Stations
  • Media/Elywn Line – Media and Primos Stations
  • Wilmington/Newark Line – Wilmington and Marcus Hook Stations
  • Airport Line – Terminals C & D, Terminal B and Eastwick Station

Market-Frankford Line: “Pick-up only service” will be available westbound from Frankford Transportation Center and the Girard Avenue Station near Fishtown and Nothern Liberties. Eastbound pick-up service will be from 69th Street Transportation Center and 52nd Street Station, and will drop off at yet-to-be-determined Center City stations. (After the event, service will express back to the outlying stations.)

Broad Street Line: Pick-up service will operate northbound from AT&T Station only; southbound pick-up service will be available at Fern Rock Transportation Center and the Cecil B. Moore Station near Temple University, with drop-offs at Center City stations.

Trolley: Operating normal service will be Route 15 Service from 63rd & Girard and Route 11 and 13 service from Darby Transportation Center, as well as Route 34 Trolley service from 61st & Baltimore and Route 36 Service from 60th & Eastwick.

There will also be service from “a limited number of stations” on the Norristown High Speed Line and Route 101 Media and Route 102 Sharon Hill Trolley Lines.

Bus: At least 26 buses in the Center City and surrounding areas will be on detours because of street closures that haven’t yet been announced. Some bus routes will operate on weekday schedules throughout the weekend.

Don’t expect to just walk up to the Regional Rail and be able to get on. Special Pope visit passes or pre-ordered reservations for the train will be expected, but anyone who didn’t pre-register their spot on the train will not be let on. A three-day pass for subway, bus and trolley will cost $10, while one-day Regional Rail passes will cost about the same.

Nutter stressed that anyone boarding the Regional Rail should make plans in advance to be dropped off at the station if at all possible, as parking will be limited since the majority of visitors will be boarding trains at just a few select locations.

“You can’t pull up, park your car and just hop on mass transit,” he said. “That’s not happening with this.”


Rina Cutler, Amtrak’s senior director for major station planning and development, said about 12,500 people pass through Philadelphia via Amtrak on a daily basis, and the transportation giant is expecting to optimize schedules to allow for a greater number of passengers.

She said those taking popular train lines like through the Northeast Corridor will have to reserve their space on the train well in advance to ensure a spot.

NJ Transit/ PATCO

NJ TRANSIT’s regular weekend service on the Atlantic City Rail Line and River Line will not operate on the weekend of the Papal visit — special tickets will be sold.

PATCO will provide non-stop service westbound to Center City during the Papal visit weekend between each of the following four New Jersey stations and 9th/ 10th and Locust Streets station:

  • Lindenwold
  • Woodcrest
  • Ferry Avenue
  • Broadway/Camden/ Walter Rand Transportation Center

There will be no PATCO service or operations at any station other than those above.


Airport officials are anticipating the Papal visit will be something like a Thanksgiving weekend — the number of people passing through the airport will increase by about 10 or 20 percent. Based on the number of flights, those officials don’t expect they’ll be accommodating the high influx of passengers that, say, SEPTA will.

Nutter added that there are at least seven major airports between New York and Washington, D.C. that international passengers could fly into. It’d be unrealistic to think all would fly directly into Philadelphia, he said.

Bike Share

Nutter left open the possibility of Indego working to install a few new bike stations in between now and the Papal visit, but said those plans haven’t been worked out yet.

Anna Orso was a reporter/curator at Billy Penn from 2014 to 2017.